Lakeside Center Is A Perfect Site For A ‘Pop-Up’ Casino
Suddenly Chicago is on its way to becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is spinning her roulette wheel and trying to choose between five proposals for the launch of a giant Chicago gambling casino by the first quarter of 2022. The proposals came after lawmakers in Springfield changed the casino tax structure and passed a pile of chips to the gaming industry.
Three of the five proposals involve massive new pie-in-the-sky construction plans on vacant land or railroad air rights that could take years of develop and build.
With the city drowning in $47 billion in pension fund debt, Lightfoot is desperate for gambling tax cash, the only logical casino choice is Lakeside Center—the original McCormick Place East—for an instant “pop-up” downtown casino that could raise millions in gaming tax dollars for the city as early as 2022.
Lakeside Center, which looks a lot like an aircraft carrier, is anchored on the shore overlooking Lake Michigan.
Construction experts say Lakeside Center originally was designed and wired decades ago for a future casino, and there is plenty of nearby parking. Before the pandemic the building was only used about 10 to 20 times a year for business gatherings.
Financial experts have estimated the casino would generate up to $6.6 billion in annual revenue, with direct tax revenue of $3 billion to $4 billion to the city and state. All this new revenue could help lead Illinois and Chicago back to fiscal stability.
In 2020, some $15-million in renovation upgrades were pumped into Lakeside Center to convert it to an emergency hospital for up to 2,500 Covid-19 patients.
Union tradesmen and women worked around the clock to install 100 new water lines, wiring 1,000 electrical outlets, and more than 100 data lines to supply an electronic records system to accept and monitor patients. FEMA paid for the work, and the Army Corps of Engineers supervised construction, so these funds really were a gift from Uncle Sam.
High-tech construction perks, along with other cosmetic upgrades could create hundreds of jobs, and the work could create an instant gambling casino.
An estimated 25-percent of Chicago’s population are casino gamers or video poker players, and experts say they are eager to line up for the action and the fun of downtown gambling.
Move in 1,000 slots and video poker machines, add 200 manned gaming tables, toss in a few restaurants and bars and Mayor Lightfoot’s cash register could start going “ka-ching” in early 2022.
Another important perk is the proposal to redevelop Lakeside Center comes from Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, headed by Chicago real estate developer Neil Bluhm, which owns four casinos, including Rivers Casino Des Plaines, the top grossing venue in Illinois.
Lakeside Center would be renamed Rivers Chicago at McCormick. According to Scott Goodman, founding principal of Chicago-based Farpoint Development, Rush Street Gaming’s partner, Lakeside Center is “a perfect adjunct to what’s already there, infrastructure, parking and access.”
The seldom-used, 50-year-old Lakeside Center has 583,000 square feet of exhibit space. It is near 2,900 hotel rooms, designed for high-traffic events, and could help draw thousands of eager conventioneer gamblers.
The $1-billion plan for Rivers Chicago Casino at McCormick would create a casino floor of up to 300,000 square feet, along with food and beverage options and entertainment spaces, Goodman said.
Farpoint likely would seek a 99-year lease with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, managers of McCormick Place. Here are details on the four other casino proposals:
Rivers 78 Gaming. Rush Street Gaming also is working with master developer Related Midwest on a proposed new construction casino at The 78, a 62-acre mega development on the Chicago River in the South Loop.
Bally’s Chicago. Bally’s has submitted two $1.6-billion proposals to build a Chicago casino at different sites. One calls for a new construction casino on the 28-acre McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard, a giant parking lot at 31st Street and South Lake Shore Drive. Bally’s second proposal involves redeveloping part of the 30-acre Freedom Center site at 777 W. Chicago Ave., which prints the Chicago Tribune and currently houses the newspaper’s news room. Bally’s has an option to purchase the land.
Hard Rock. Perhaps the biggest pie-in-the-sky proposal comes from Hard Rock International, which says it plans to build a new-construction casino on railroad air rights just west of Soldier Field, in the futuristic One Central Development. Landmark Development’s One Central plan calls for covering a 35-acre train yard with a platform on which a retail, dining and entertainment destination will sit. It would require $6.5 billion in state financing over 20 years for the project to launch.
Regardless of which Chicago proposal is approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, the nation’s casino business is booming with $14 billion in revenue in the third quarter of 2021, the industry’s best quarter ever. U.S. casinos are poised to have their best year ever in 2021, on a pace to break the annual revenue record of $43.65 billion set in 2019.